SBAC approves plan for $61M in pandemic grants

Addressing student mental well-being and making up for learning loss are top priorities for parents, teachers and students in Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS), according to district-wide survey results that will be used in determining how to spend $61.5 million in federal grant funds.

The survey was delivered in December to all ACPS staff, parents and teachers and yielded responses from 2,057 participants, including 474 ACPS teachers, 1,376 parents and 146 students.

The top three priorities were student social/emotional/mental well-being, student learning loss, and facility upgrades to “improve environmental health and safety,” such as HVAC and roofing to improve indoor air quality, and painting projects. Technology, including access to the internet and equipment, was also a recurring topic that scored high.

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Informed by those results, the SBAC unanimously approved a federal grant application at its regular meeting Tuesday night. 

The federal government enacted three stimulus bills in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and they included funding for education in order to support state and local government responses to the pandemic.

Those bills are: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) in March 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) in December 2020, and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March 2021.

Each of those bills included Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds that were distributed to state education agencies who in turn distributed at least 90 percent of the funds to local education agencies.

According to the ACPS survey summary, the allowable uses for how school districts can spend ESSER funds in response to the pandemic include: “Coordinating emergency response, addressing the needs of highly vulnerable student populations, ensuring preparedness and coordination (systems and procedures), training related to student health (mental, emotional, physical), purchasing cleaning supplies to sanitize and clean schools, planning/coordinating for continued education, purchasing educational technology, mental health supports for students and teachers, summer learning programs, addressing learning loss, facilities repairs and improvements, improving indoor air quality, developing strategies and implementing public health protocols, and other activities necessary for maintaining services and instruction.”

According to meeting documents, ACPS will receive $61.5 million in grants, and $3.6 million of that allocation must go to charter schools.

At Tuesday’s meeting Alex Rella, chief of finance for the district, presented the grant application for what programs ACPS will implement. 

Alex Rella

They include tutoring for literacy and math for all grades, curriculum resource development, professional learning for teachers, a stipend to employ professional development specialists for summer projects, a summer academy, behavior professional development training, parent leadership training, and the purchase of student laptops, software and connectivity for students are on the long list.

Programs in the response plan that will address mental health services include crisis response training, online behavioral lessons for struggling students, additional school social workers, and “development of district-wide student behavior support plan with embedded mental health support, restorative practices, and a positive behavior intervention and support focus to provide an equitable and culturally responsive lens for supporting students,” the plan states.

Rella said the strategies that the ACPS will implement are “good programs we are hoping will improve outcomes for our students. This is a federal grant, so we will spend the funds once the grant is approved and seek reimbursement from the FDOE.”

Two residents asked during public comment for more community input in the way the funds are being spent beyond the survey.

SBAC Vice Chair Tina Certain assured them and all taxpayers that she would be monitoring the spending of the funds and that she would want to be able to explain to the federal government where the money went and who it benefited.

“This is life-changing money,” she said.

SBAC member Dr. Leanetta McNealy also reassured the community that she is keeping a close eye on the funds.

“We are all wanting the public to know tonight that we totally support these pages,” she said.

dashboard that keeps track of how ESSER funds are being spent is available online at the SBAC website.

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